”An upstart women’s golf brand, named after the NATO phonetic alphabet letters for its founder’s nickname ‘KT’, strives to recruit buyers from the legions of young ladies taking up the sport and on the hunt for a fashion label to call their own.
Founder Katie McCarthy started swinging golf clubs when she was five years old and placed second in the first junior tournament she entered, a PUPS Tour event, in Ohio. While she went on to play college golf at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, she never dreamed she’d make a career out of it.
“I always wanted to play for life. I loved the sport and I enjoyed being good at it but I was trying to be good at it so that I could play my whole life. When I graduated my dad said ‘don’t be sad, you have a lifetime of club championships to look forward to,’” McCarthy said.
She credits an entrepreneurship course she took and an independent study project on brand strategy and marketing for whetting her appetite to create her own golf apparel label, but the inspiration would come after she had some work experience under her belt.
Post-graduation McCarthy moved to D.C. and took a job working in public affairs for the treasury department, followed by a stint in strategic communications for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. She currently has a similar role with Patomak Global Partners, a financial sector consultancy. But once she clocks out, her evenings are dedicated to Kilo Tango.
During the pandemic McCarthy noticed a lot of her pals and acquaintances started taking up golf as the naturally social distanced sport experienced an overall participation boom. As the only serious golfer in her friend group, she became the go-to for golf fashion advice—what to wear and dress code pointers.
This was a major sea change as growing up, nobody in her social circles played the game other than her teammates.
“A lot of girls my age grew up playing with the boys on weekends because they were the only ones who wanted to go play nine,” McCarthy explained.
But then she suddenly started getting texts from girlfriends who had a company tournament to play in or who were going on a golf date and wanted to know what to wear for the occasion.
McCarthy found she was asking them a lot of follow-up questions about the venue, mainly because there were too many factors to consider.
“I’d always ask them—what kind of course are you going to? It felt like there was never one central brand I could recommend to them. If they were going on a date at a public course, maybe they could get away with a short little Lululemon skirt but if they were going to a private club or a work event, not so much and I felt I was always sending the longest text back to explain it,” McCarthy said.
She felt the status quo wasn’t cutting it and there was an opportunity to fill a void in the marketplace by appealing to a growing cohort of new golfers who did not want to hit the links looking like their grandmothers. While investigating the state of the marketplace, she found a lot of legacy brand fits to be too boxy and their prints were too loud.
“I don’t think people would wear rainbow cheetah normally, but somehow if it’s in a pro shop, people do. I don’t know where that idea came from, but it was definitely designed for women of an older age who are less athletic and golf has grown increasingly athletic,” McCarthy explained.
She also noted that large athletic brands had confusing size chart variations between sports so you could be size X in yoga and running wear but a size Y for golf, the assumption being that “golfers were bigger.”
She still remembers sitting on a barstool at a friend’s apartment in March of 2021 and realizing that if she didn’t do this, somebody else would. Early on in the ideation process she was spit-balling potential names with her brother, who is a pilot in the marine corps, and when she said ‘Kilo Tango’ he thought it was catchy and the ball started rolling.
She then landed on a pin flag shaped garnish pick bisecting a lime after drawing a crude sketch of the eventual design on her iPhone and getting a thumbs up from her dad.
“I wanted a wearable logo, something you could put on a hat or on your car as a sticker. Vineyard Vines does a great job with that cute little whale. People put that sticker on everything and I wanted something that could have that kind of connection,” McCarthy explained.
While passionate about fashion, McCarthy didn’t go to school for it, nor was she versed on making a product from scratch, so there was a learning curve to every step of the process from design and fabric selection to negotiating with manufacturers.
“People didn’t take me seriously because I look very young, so I often did calls off camera because I was 22 and trying to negotiate a big production run,” McCarthy explained.
It took ten iterations, a costly endeavor, to get a versatile sleeveless racer-backed swing dress with a drawstring waist that can either be worn buttoned up mock neck style or v-necked and collared right. McCarthy’s refusal to compromise on fit and fabric that wasn’t just right would pay dividends in the end. The flouncy look is the young brand’s runaway bestseller. And while it’s since been knocked off a couple times since, McCarthy savvily takes imitation as a compliment.
Fortune unexpectedly struck at the PGA Merchandise show last year where the brand debuted. McCarthy could only afford the tiniest booth size possible but she found a way to standout by tapping a bachelorette party photobooth specialist to deck out her space with an eye-catching pink and white striped carpet, a palm tree and a grass wall. When she arrived at the convention center in Orlando she noticed the neighboring space, three times the size of her spot, was vacant.
“I called the PGA Show rep, told them it looks bad that there is this empty space, ‘help me help you, I’ll fill it’ and they said ‘sure.’ I went from having the tiniest, little insignificant booth to having the largest women’s golf booth,” McCarthy explained.
Equipped with only one sample of each garment, McCarthy decided to spread out her clothing lending the space the feel of a luxury boutique. That resourcefulness in seizing the opportunity to supersize her trade show real estate and making the most out of having limited product to display, shows Kilo Tango can go places.
A post-show Golf Channel appearance led to a slew of purchase orders. Currently 42 pro shops carry the brand including Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina, Baker’s Bay in the Bahamas, and Mayacama in Napa Valley. High end private clubs and destination resort shops have been the sweet spot for McCarthy’s youthful looks and fits that have taken into account all the uniform complaints she’s heard from teammates over her years while playing competitively in high school and college.
The gameplan for 2024 is to expand color offerings and grow the D2C side of the business with marketing efforts focused on the college set, influencers and mom bloggers. McCarthy’s alma mater recently reached out and they will be outfitting the Gettysburg College team in Kilo Tango digs next season.“
Written by Mike Dajoc